Automating Sensor Resource Management: The Key to Multi-Threat Counter-sUAS Systems

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Jason Adaska

Program Manager, Mimir Software

Sensor resource management involves the dynamic tasking of sensors to optimize detection, tracking and data fusion. In dynamic and resource-constrained circumstances, such as countering multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) at once, the ability to intelligently manage and task sensor assets becomes a force multiplier, ensuring optimal coverage, minimizing redundancies and maximizing operational efficiency. The integration of artificial intelligence (AI), data fusion, and automation in sensor resource management ensures that counter-sUAS systems work efficiently against threats by optimizing sensor resource allocation.

Counter-sUAS Challenges in Multi-Threat Environments

The goal of counter-sUAS is to identify, target, and defeat one or more sUAS threats. The most robust approaches to threat detection, identification and tracking will integrate sensor data from multiple sources to create an accurate air picture and support fire control tracking. In this context, geographically dispersed sensors can each contribute complimentary sensing modalities and geometrically diverse sensor-target viewpoints to develop a rich, multi-dimensional air picture across a wide operational environment. By leveraging a network of interconnected sensors and intelligent data processing systems, a real-time understanding of the operational environment can be achieved, providing the bedrock for early warning and rapid response capabilities.

While the fusion of sensor data is a critical component of an integrated defense strategy, the amount of data that is low-latency, high-quality, and immediately relevant is often a constrained resource.  For multi-threat environments, effectively utilizing this limited resource through adaptive allocation and coordination of sensor resources is equally vital. And this is where most counter-sUAS systems fall short. 

An example of the impact of sensor resource management on the Counter-sUAS mission can be seen by studying the integration of optical sensing assets.  Sensor data from electro-optical/infrared imaging can improve threat identification and improve kinematic accuracy. However, most counter-sUAS systems currently require human interaction to manage the sensor. In basic systems, this may involve a soldier using a joystick to point a camera at a potential target after it has been detected by radar. In more advanced systems, a “slew-to-cue” capability can automatically point the camera to the threat using radar detection data, though a human still has to manually see the radar track, select it and tell the system to direct the camera. Giving low-level commands may not be a problem when facing a single drone, but in the context of a multi-axis swarm attack, it quickly becomes a dangerous bottleneck – complicating decision-making and decreasing response time.

Increasing the Effectiveness of Sensor Resource Management with Automation

So how can forces effectively counter tens or hundreds of drones in a wide area when operators face so much task saturation, with humans in the loop still required to manually trigger appropriate threat detection and engagement measures? 

One of the main challenges with human-in-the-loop systems is scalability. Whereas current counter-sUAS systems employ a human-in-the-loop approach, automated sensor resource management enables human-on-the-loop operation. This means that the software agent has the initiative, controlling low-level sensor tasking while the human “monitors” the execution and provides high-level guidance. In a scenario where many targets are in play, this approach frees up operator bandwidth by allowing the radar and camera to automatically track the right targets based on preset parameters. 

Key benefits of automated sensor resource management include: 

  • Freeing the operator from the low-level decisions. The system takes over low-level sensor resource tasking via rigorous optimization algorithms and AI. Operator interaction is fully supported – humans still retain control by giving high-level commands and the resource manager honors an operator’s prioritization. This provides the operator with the mental bandwidth needed for higher-level planning and tactics in complex scenarios.
  • Rapid decision-making against multiple, dynamic threats. In a situation with many dynamic targets and multiple axes of attack, decision time is cut short and soldiers need to act quickly. With automation, the system can react to those changes more easily, intelligently determining how long sensors linger on each target and when to revisit a target to best support threat engagement.
  • Reducing risk to the force by enabling deployment of automated sensing assets away from soldiers. Protect smaller formations by placing high signature sensors like radars on uncrewed and autonomously operated robotic systems, and away from infantry transport vehicles.
  • Automated target cueing. Automatically cue optics based on radar detection data as a detected target enters the visibility perimeter, no human tasking needed.
  • Enable dynamic, low-signature systems.  Sensor automation unlocks multiple low-signature mission concepts that reduce the targeting threat while maintaining Counter-sUAS effectiveness. One configuration is a system that passively scans for threats via optics, or other passive means, and keep radar resources in “quiet mode,” automatically turning them on for increased accuracy only as needed to enact countermeasures.  A dual configuration uses radar for initial target detection at range. Passive sensing assets are then queued to maintain track and return radar to “quiet mode”. 

Automated sensor resource management leverages advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence for seamless sensor tasking, enhancing the performance and flexibility of defense operations by ensuring the most effective use of sensory resources and information. This approach not only reduces the burden on communication networks but also supports the strategic goals of defense by providing a comprehensive, agile response system to multiple, concurrent threats.

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Mimir integrates heterogeneous networks of sensors and weapons. With advanced, automated sensor resource management capabilities, the software provides dynamic optimization-based control for enhanced sensor tasking, delivering high performance tasking solutions.

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